The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is American motorsport entrepreneurship at its finest. NASCAR evolved from the outlawed practice of moonshine distribution during Prohibition, when drivers from the Appalachian regions self-exported their product throughout the United States. This required cars that were faster than the police and drivers skillful enough to speed down winding mountain roads, sometimes without their headlights on. You either became very good at driving, got caught by the cops, or died trying.
After the repeal of Prohibition in 1993, Moonshiners weren’t keen on paying tax, so their illegal distribution methods continued. The cars got faster, and the drivers, better. It was only logical that they would eventually wish to race each other, too, instead of only outrunning the police. Thus, by the late 1940s, drivers and mechanics were organizing themselves, and in 1949, the first NASCAR race was run. Ever since, Americans have been in love with this working-class motorsport.
Although its appeal to the masses remains undeniable, NASCAR is often mocked by others for the simplicity of its cars and the monotony of racing venues, which are mostly banked ovals linked with left-turning corners. The budgets involved are massive and within the apparently simple and terribly strict rules, teams apply themselves with all the scientific precision of F1 to gain an advantage.
There's a decidedly Southern flavor to NASCAR, with most of the teams' headquarters being situated around Charlotte, North Carolina. Despite slick marketing and overpowering sponsorship, NASCAR has never completely escaped its outlaw roots.
17 It Looks Worse Than It Is
There are times when NASCAR looks more like a collision sport than any form of motorsport. Crashing is synonymous with NASCAR, but when you crunch the numbers, it’s actually not that bad. Per race, NASCAR averages only one accident per 500 miles, a frequency of contact that doesn’t have the makings of a demolition derby at all.
More than 80% of all starters finish, but it’s the spectacular nature of NASCAR crashes that has given it the reputation for chaos. The speedway environment means there's virtually no room for error. In most other motorsports, you have tire barriers guarding impact zones around corners and sand bunkers in the run-off area to slow you down before hitting anything. NASCAR cars lap at 200 mph, only inches from a concrete retaining wall, so when something does happen, the crashes are massive.
16 It’s More Popular Than Nearly Anything Else
Although most of the NASCAR series events are held in the traditional U.S. South, there’s no denying the immense viewership it attracts nearly everywhere else. Race days are attended by crowds in the hundreds of thousands, and television ratings average 5m per race. As an indication of NASCAR's scale, the famous Brickyard 500, held at Indianapolis’s renowned speedway, has the capacity for 350,000 NASCAR fans. But that's not enough. For the NASCAR events at Indy, optional infield seating is used, too, swelling that number to 400,000. As a spectator sport, there's nothing to rival it in terms of sheer "fans in seats" during the event. In fact, in American sport, its only rival is the NFL.
15 Women Are Welcome
Unlike most other forms of motorsport and despite its conservative fan base and team-owner profile, NASCAR has impressive levels of female participation. Sixteen women have qualified to start a NASCAR race, and four have started in pole position.
The most accomplished female NASCAR driver is Danica Patrick, who sacrificed high school to go racing instead. In 2008, Danica made history by becoming the first woman to win an Indy event, the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. Where other kinds of motorsport have female engineers and managers, NASCAR is the only one which consistently provides an opportunity on the grid for women to compete against men at 200mph. In fact, they’ve been involved since the very beginning, with Sara Christian starting in the first-ever NASCAR race held in 1949 at the Charlotte Speedway.
14 A Very Different White Flag
Throughout history, the symbolic white flag has always signaled an end to hostilities. Surrender. In NASCAR, it’s the sign of absolute chaos and an escalation of conflict. To signal the penultimate lap of any NASCAR race, a race official waves the white flag. With a NASCAR lap averaging less than a minute in duration, this white flag spurs the field into action, as contenders realize they have very little time to influence the race outcome.
Drivers desperate to improve their finishing position or intent on ruining a rival’s race can turn to drastic tactics when the white flag is waved. Last-lap chaos is a very real outcome in NASCAR, with drivers willing to put each other into the wall right up to the end. That white flag, symbolically, is really more like waving a red flag.
13 Anybody Is Welcome To Try
Owing to its outlaw roots, NASCAR doesn’t require much from those who wish to participate. You don’t even need a driver’s license to speed around the banked oval at 200 mph. That’s correct—you could become a NASCAR champion without being able to drive yourself to and from the track.
There's a simple three-page form you need to complete, and your application can be sent off to NASCAR's administrative address at 7010 West Winds Blvd, Concord, NC 28027. It's hardly a complicated form either, with the most elementary personal information and the requirement of three references. You could even get your friends to vouch for how talented you are behind the wheel. Organisers require some elementary racing experience, though, to identify those with potential. If you demonstrate the required speed at a test session, you're good to go—no state driver’s license required.
12 Oil Is Everything
NASCAR cars are powered by relatively simple V8s. These engines are quite unsophisticated in comparison to European racing V8s, and strict regulations attempt to keep teams from gaining a horsepower advantage over each other. With the rulebook being so strict, a lot of resources are needed to make a marginal gain. And even then, the simplest way to get a bit more power from your NASCAR racing V8 engine isn't necessarily better valve springs or lighter internals, which are always on the unlawful side of race regulations and interpretation.
If you can’t make that V8 powering your NASCAR more powerful with trick mechanical components, reducing friction is your only option. Thus, oil companies are massively involved in NASCAR R&D and sponsorship, and their best lubricants and engine oils can net a gain of about 10 horsepower. It's also great associated marketing because engine oil is the one thing fans in the stands can relate to and pour into their own cars, too.
11 Outrageous Race Names
With the attraction of a massive live and broadcast audience, sponsors are frantic to be involved with NASCAR. This leads to some rather ridiculous event names. Ordinarily, you’d have the sponsor’s brand and race distance as a NASCAR event name. Logically that makes a lot of sense. But when sponsors who have nothing to do with the car industry wish to get involved, the naming rights to an event can become a bit embarrassing.
It really gets a little weird. No, actually, it gets very weird. Races such as the ‘SpongeBob SquarePants 400,’ or the ‘Subway Jalapeño 250 powered by Coca-Cola’ make little sense and show that sponsorship ambitions and brand values are often in conflict with NASCAR. But NASCAR never says no to anybody who wishes to become involved and has a trunk full of dollars as a result.
10 There’s A Tragic Dynasty
The Earnhardts are NASCAR's most famous racing family. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver in NASCAR—voted to this position by fans a record 15 times—and also its best-earning athlete. At the height of his racing prowess, Earnhardt Jr. was making more than any other driver, and when he retired in 2017, his total career earnings calculated to $400 million. His father, Dale Earnhardt Sr, was a seven-time champion, tying for 'greatest overall driver' with Richard Petty, who also won seven championships. Winning drivers, hugely successful professional athletes, and liked by all, they were the dream driving family—except for one detail.
Tragically, Earnhardt Sr died at the peak of his powers whilst on the final lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001 after colliding with Sterling Martin. After Earnhardt Sr’s death, NASCAR safety regulations were drastically improved.
9 Japanese/Americans Dominate
For decades, NASCAR was a celebration of the big three American auto brands: Chevrolet, Chrysler, and Ford. Mostly, it was a simply brutal rivalry between Chevrolet and Ford. Then, Toyota happened, and the traditional hierarchy in NASCAR was altered. Dramatically. Despite NASCAR rules purposely written and applied to ensure racing that's close, with it nearly impossible to gain a margin of mechanical advantage, Toyota is now the dominant NASCAR team. Their win rate last year was greater than 50%, and it only got better during the season, with Toyota winning eight of the last ten races. NASCAR never imagined a Japanese brand would dominate the most American of motorsports—and with a Camry, of all things. The secret of this speedy Toyota? Look closely, and you'll notice that it's shaped slightly differently compared to any other NASCAR car, all in the interest of maximizing aerodynamics.
8 Only Four On The Floor
NASCAR cars are plenty quick. They’ll run 200 mph with ease and do that lap after lap for a thousand miles if required. The amazing thing is that they only have four gears. And those are manually operated gears that shift without a clutch, which can be almost impossibly tricky to drive.
Most NASCAR drivers are American and most Americans never drive a manual gearbox. Without the opportunity to drive 'stick' when they're young, NASCAR drivers can have a steep learning curve when they graduate to driving in the big league. And rookie NASCAR drivers, even if they have the raw speed and the courage, are often forced by team owners to drive stick-shift cars, as opposed to automatics, as their private vehicles. It’s a way of creating familiarity with the idea of shifting. Despite this, some still struggle to match engine speed with gear choice.
7 Union? What Union?
NASCAR is the ultimate expression of car-racing capitalism. There's a saturation of sponsors, drivers selling merchandise of their own likenesses, and a brain-numbing number of ads during any race broadcast—not the kind of environment, where unionization is welcome. At all. In fact, in the 1960s, celebrated NASCAR driver Curtis Turner attempted to form a drivers’ union, but all he received for that effort was a lifetime ban from the organizers. Even today, despite the dangers involved, drivers remain free agents to be traded as they wish, for any amount. Thus, you could be a champion one year and find yourself without a drive the next. It really is the Wild West of motorsport, where even a winning last draw can't guarantee you won't be shut down soon.
6 They’re Social Media Innovators
For a sport of participants and followers who value simplicity, you’d never guess that NASCAR once nearly broke the Twittersphere. At the 2012 Daytona 500, driver Brad Keselowski did what all of us shouldn’t but always do.
During a delay in the race due to a crash, Keselowski took his Smartphone out and started tweeting from behind the wheel. Although NASCAR has a rule against using electronic devices in a moving car, Keselowski felt he was doing nothing wrong because the entire field had stopped due to a crash and resultant fire.
The point-of-view perspective was something completely new for any motorsport. As a result, Keselowski gained 100,000 authentically organic followers in an hour. One can only imagine what would've happened if he had used Snapchat or some clever hashtags.
5 The Best Motorsport Movie Parody
Movies about NASCAR have been made before. Tom Cruise was a superstar in the 1990 hit Days of Thunder, but it was the offbeat brilliance of Will Ferrell that claims first place in the ranking of NASCAR movies. Ferrell’s 2006 comedy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, parodied NASCAR to perfection. In fact, some of those formerly involved with the sport said it was closer to the real thing than most realize—a parody almost perfectly executed.
Talladega Nights has become such a source of quotable quotes. Even four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel used Ricky Bobby’s memorable ‘shake and bake’ line in communication with his team over the radio at the 2013 U.S. Grand Prix in Austin. And if Germans embrace your humor, you know it has to be good.
4 Its Most Famous Race Has Maintenance Issues
The NASCAR season starts each year with the Daytona 500. It's unquestionably the most prestigious race of all and a showpiece for all that's good about NASCAR. It's also the race with the large purse for those who win, first place netting $1.5, which is hardly a bad return for an afternoon behind the wheel. Embarrassingly, though, in 2010, NASCAR’s most famous race was halted for two hours and twenty-five minutes due to a pothole—indeed, not a crash, but a pothole stopped NASCAR’s showpiece event. Organizers appeared helpless to fill the asphalt divot, even resorting to using Bondo, at one stage, in sheer desperation. Perhaps, some of the event's budget allocated to winnings would've been better spent on maintenance.
3 Blink And You’ll Miss It
The Colosseum of NASCAR isn't a complicated one—you drive around an oval track, turning left for many consecutive laps. With little variation in the shape and speed of corners, racers keep to an ideal line and slipstream each other expertly before pouncing for a pass. That slipstreaming is also known as "tandem drafting," where cars get so close, their aerodynamic profile effectively becomes one, with the advantage of two engines' worth of power.
An obsession with drafting means the field of NASCAR is usually in a very close 200 mph precession. As a result, the winning margins are marginal. The narrowest winning margin in NASCAR history was recorded in 2003 at the Darlington Raceway, where Kurt Busch ended up behind Ricky Craven by just 0.002 seconds. Three decimal places—that’s pretty close.
2 The Drivers Aren’t Angels
There have been 27 driver suspensions in NASCAR, disciplinary action for an array of transgressions. Most of the NASCAR driver suspensions relate to drug use and possession, the most extreme case being that of Steve Seligman, who was arrested after cocaine was found at his workshop and who was sentenced to 27 years in prison. Second to narcotic abuse, it’s cheating that gets most drivers suspended. NASCAR technical rules are strict, and even an engine measured to be 0.17 cubic inches too large will get you suspended. Just ask Carl Long, who was fined $200,000 for exactly that in 2009, the heaviest fine for a technical infringement in NASCAR history. Poor Carl remained a NASCAR outcast until 2017, as he struggled to raise the cash to settle his fine and return to the racing fold.
1 Is It Nascar Or WWE?
The one thing that sets NASCAR apart from all other motorsports is the frequency of fighting—not cars bashing each other but drivers doing exactly that after there's been a fender bender of some sort. Fighting in NASCAR is frequent, and there's no other driver with a punching pedigree to match that of Jeff Gordon, despite being only 5'8 tall and weighing 150 pounds. The multiple champion and Dayton 500 winner, generally regarded as the best NASCAR driver of the modern era, isn’t shy when it comes to conflict. Brad Keselowski, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer have all faced Gordon’s wrath after colliding with the no.24 car. Gordon has channeled his contempt of rivals from physical to verbal conflict of late in his role as an expert commentator on NASCAR for Fox Sports.
Sources: nascar.com, autoblog.com, jalopnik.com, motorsport.net